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Health policies must incorporate new findings showing the long-term effects of undernutrition in early life, says Brazilian researcher Cesar G. Victora.

Good nutrition is essential for adult health and has positive effects on human capital, improving school achievement, economic productivity and earnings.

But interventions must be administered before the age of three to be beneficial — gaining weight after this age results in fat-mass deposition.

Promoting weight gain in the first 2–3 years of life, but not afterwards, is a major policy challenge.

So too is understanding the long-term consequences of nutrition in early life for populations experiencing rapid change. Victora's studies in Brazil show that children with poor nutrition in these settings have a greater risk of becoming overweight in later life. This means different nutritional programmes are needed for specific population sub-groups, argues Victora.

But despite its importance, early nutrition has received little international funding. Where funding is available, it tends to be directed at food aid or micronutrient supplementation. A better option would be community-based approaches, such as promoting breastfeeding and complementary foods, which have proven effects on child survival and nutrition, suggests Victora.

Link to full article in The Lancet*

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